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A few years ago I was in the middle of making a recipe when, due to my normal hastiness of not reading a recipe in full before charging into to it, I realized that I didn’t have the listed vanilla sugar in my pantry.  I couldn’t tell you what I was making at the time.  And I also couldn’t tell you that I had ever seen vanilla sugar in any of the stores I’d shopped in.  But I can tell you that since my first encounter with vanilla sugar as an ingredient, I’ve seen it listed in no less than a dozen other recipes.  I can also tell you that shortly after making that first recipe, I tracked this elusive sugar down and bought some.  Ugh.  It was expensive and I knew I could probably just use a little extra vanilla extract in its place but I felt like there was a reason why these recipes called specifically for vanilla sugar.

Vanilla Sugar

Well sure there’s a reason: because vanilla sugar is amazing.  And it’s even more amazingly simple to make.  I believe I “learned” how to make vanilla sugar from watching Bobby Flay; his emphatic instructions were to scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean out for whatever recipe you were using it for and “don’t throw out the pod!”  To make your own vanilla sugar, you’ll put your used bean pod(s) into a jar then cover the pod(s) with regular granulated sugar.  Every few days, shake the container to mix up the sugar and spin the pods around through the sugar to release the vanilla flavor and any remaining beans from the pods into the sugar.  After a couple of weeks, you’ll open up the jar and get smacked with all the loveliness that is the vanilla bean in sugar form.  As you use new vanilla beans, toss the pods into the same container…and as you use the vanilla sugar, add new granulated sugar to the container and continue the process of shaking and spinning.

Vanilla Sugar

So now if you’re wondering what you can use your homemade vanilla sugar for, I’ll tell you simply that you can use it in many recipes that call for vanilla extract in place of [or partially substituted for] the granulated sugar.  I wouldn’t substitute vanilla sugar for extract, but use the vanilla sugar to enhance the vanilla flavor in the recipe.  I use it in all kinds of ice cream, sugar cookies (both decorated and soft versions), pancakes, cakes, and biscotti.  It’s handy to have in your pantry, is a luxurious ingredient that costs virtually nothing, and would make for a fantastic addition to holiday gift packages.  How can you beat that?

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DIY: Vanilla Sugar
source: Smells Like Home, though this isn’t an original idea

To make your own vanilla sugar, be sure to use a glass jar or bowl.  Over time, plastic containers will absorb the vanilla flavor and you certainly don’t want to lose any flavor into a plastic container!

What you need:

  • 1 or more empty vanilla bean pods
  • 3+ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 large glass jar that can be sealed – a 1 quart mason jar works great

What you’ll do:

  1. Place empty vanilla bean pods inside the glass jar.
  2. Cover pods with 3 cups sugar, leaving about 1/4″ of the pod showing about the top of the sugar.  Tightly seal the jar and store in a cool, dark place.
  3. Once or twice a week, open the jar and spin the pods around the sugar.  Close the jar and shake up the sugar and pods.
  4. Allow the bean pods to release their flavor and beans into the sugar over the course of about 2 weeks before using.  The longer the pods sit in the sugar, the better the sugar will be.
  5. When you have new empty bean pods, snuggle them into the sugar.  When you use the vanilla sugar, stir new sugar into the old and on top of the old pods.  In a tightly sealed jar, sugar and pods will last upwards of 12 months, possibly longer.

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  • November 7, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    That’s a great idea! This would be a really cute gift for a fellow baker at Christmas time too!

  • November 7, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    I love it for our Christmas biscotti and homemade hot chocolate mix. A few years ago, I saw Jamie Oliver put the sugar and a couple of pods into a food processor – I keep telling myself I’m going to try that ‘next time.’

  • November 7, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    What a great idea! I’m already making vanilla extract as gifts- this would be a great addition to that!

  • November 7, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    I need to get on this!

  • tanya1234
    November 7, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    a really Gr8 idea i have to try 🙂

  • November 8, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    I’ve been wanting to make some vanilla sugar! Next time I use a vanilla bean I’ll be sure to save the pod to make this. Thanks for sharing!

  • November 9, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    This seems like it could be really nice to stir into hot drinks, although I can’t seem to think of the right kind of tea to pair it with.

    • November 9, 2011 at 1:45 PM

      Kristina: What about some apple cinnamon tea? Or Earl Grey?

  • January 11, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    I’m definitely going to try this! Thanks for sharing!

  • The Idaho Baker
    December 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    I’ve been making this for years but rather than keeping the vanilla pods in the sugar, I food process the sugar & vanilla bean so I have small chunks. I store for two weeks and then run the sugar through a sieve to remove any chunks. Vanilla sugar can keep for a very long time but it never does in my house

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